‘That’s so Enduro, man!’
It’s only in the last few years that this word ‘Enduro’ has been batted about from pillar to post. The race style has been around since 2011, but the profile of it has boomed with a number of races throughout the year from grass roots level to the world stage showing us the best riders at this form of riding, but what is it?
“Enduro is a form of Mountain bike racing in which there is a number of timed downhill sections of trail, and a number of uphill transfer stages, which are not timed, but might have time limits to complete.”
This confused me and many others for a while as the term was definitely used in reference to long distances, 50km plus endurance rides where you got a time, but no ranking or placement. Thinking of it less of a race, but more of a personal challenge. It appears that the rise of this new breed of event and biker has flipped the word ‘Enduro’ from the lycra wearing, hardtail riding XC boys to the full suspension, brightly coloured baggy wearing guys and girls who are just too cool for school…well some of them anyway! If you want to read further about this there’s a good article on Bike Magic to comprehend this shift in the biking scene, it has brought out another category of bike too, now that’s not a bad thing!
You don’t know until you give it a go…
I have been a passive observer of this Enduro scene as we have a number of customers and a couple of team riders entering into the local, British and World Enduro series races, but never saw it as something I would ever do. This is partly due to a little lack of confidence in my descending ability, but also the thought of every second counting. At the top end, it may be just a few seconds or less that divides the top riders, just mad! I simply want to have fun on my bike and I think the thought of being timed on a descent just put me right off, but until I’ve given it a go, I won’t know.
Recently I have also been struggling to get motivated to actually head out and go riding, just temporarily lost my mojo…I have taken up running and everything to change it up. Discovered I quite enjoy it, great for fitness, head clearing and seeing some stunning sunsets! Anyway I thought mixing it up by doing some night riding (which is awesome) and entering an Enduro would be something different for me to try out and have a bit of fun with!
I’ve been keeping tabs on the Welsh Gravity Enduro as it’s fairly local to me with rounds at Cwmcarn, Bike Park Wales and Afan. The final round was at Glyncorrwg Trail Centre (Afan), so somewhere I go occasionally, but not super familiar with so thought I’d give the ‘Mash up’ style go, this way you can try the stages as many times as you physically could or want to in the 5 hour racing window as you can to get your best time. This means a little less pressure if you mess up a run, get a mechanical or crash as you can head back up for another go, the top races you only get one shot (no pressure there then!)
Practice makes permanent
A number of the riders went up in the week prior or the day before and checked out the stages, so they knew the best lines, the tricky sections or where they can gain speed by pedalling or conserve energy. This all helps get you into the right mindset, get a feel of the style of trails they are and know what to expect. I really should have done this, it may have been helpful, instead i went out and did 50km loop that incorporated some of the steeper local and downhill tracks close by me that were nothing like what we were going to ride at Afan, but it helped switch my brain from cross country to more gravity orientated riding! As you can tell I wasn’t taking this one too seriously. All I heard from riders was that there were 3 three stages, one being very pedally and not too technical, one was short and rocky with risk of puncturing and the last being super long and pedally. Hearing all this talk about pedalling I thought I might be ok at it, but how wrong I could be!
What time is it?
I got an (earlier than planned) lift with a couple of guys who were marshalling (thank you), so was there at what felt like the crack of dawn, but as the clocks went back an hour on this day it was a little less painful knowing it was actually 7am when the alarm went off at 6am. This I do believe is one of 2 days in the year that we never know what clocks will automatically change and which will stay, so we wake up confused (more than usual) as to what the flipping time is! At least this one you will only be early not late, so with the necessary mug of tea for the journey, my trusty steed and kit in the van we were off. I didn’t feel that nervous yet, but that may be because I was still half asleep!
What’s the game plan?
I had no game plan, I treated this like a grand day out and do as much as I fancied. There may have been tactical ways to ride the 3 stages, but I had no idea as I didn’t even know what each stage was really like until my first run of them! First it was to get the number boards and transponder thing. It made me chuckle when the rules said to put this at the bottom of the right fork stanchion…Umm, I have a lefty! It was ok though, it sat nicely at the bottom of my fork, it may not fit the mould, but worked all the same, I do love to stand out (not!).
I had the kit on already, thanks to Madison I had some more ‘Enduro’ style attire in my Madison Flo shorts along with my Leisure Lakes Bikes Freeride top, no XC Jersey and lycra seen here, well apart from Tim from Mojo Suspension rocking a baggy jersey and lycra shorts (now that was a look, but clearly worked for him!). It’s amazing how the clothes you wear impacts on your mindset and also what other people assume you ride like, you can fool yourself and others with an outfit…all the gear, no idea (sound familiar!). I even got a new set of Five Ten Kestrel clipless shoes for this (and for riding through the winter), which just helped set the outfit off, no full face and goggles though! There were so many cool kits on show, it was a very colourful event.
The bike was ready, I was dressed for the occasion and all that I had to do was not get too into the climbing and save my energy for the descents. This was tough, I just wanted to get my pedal on up the first single track climb, but the more energy exerted pushing up a climb is lost out on the actual race part of this day, so I held back and spinned my way up as effortless as possible without walking! I caught up with a friend who was also doing this for the first time, so we stayed together for the rest of the day, which was really nice as I would have felt a little lost on my own (sometimes literally when I wasn’t paying attention to the signage!). We got to the top just before the official start, so there wasn’t much of a queue, which meant we were pretty quick to get this going.
It’s race time…
We planned to do stage 2 and 1 a couple of times before heading over to stage 3, as that one took you back down to the start and the tough climb back up. Stage 2 as I got there I recognised a little, but not really so going into it blind though my eyes were open (quite key!). The timing mat beeped and I was off…pedal, pedal, pedal! it was pretty flat to start with a couple of corners, then it began to descend slightly, dropped the saddle, but carried on pedalling standing up. It was relentless! A couple of short inclines where I was in the wrong gear so lost some speed and then it got it’s flow on, little corners, a few rocks to glide over and then another climb, time to dig deep, it’s got to be over soon! Then a set of 3 drops that with each one got bigger, without really thinking I just took them in my stride and rode straight over them, not so bad. That was it, breathing heavily and legs like jelly, but that stage was done. That was exhausting, I’m not really one to attack the downhill descents, just go with the flow of them, so this was a massive shock to the system and hard as the combination of pushing hard, but also staying in control is a fine line sometimes! I didn’t have a clue as to what time I had done it in, but to be honest I didn’t care, I just wanted to complete each stage and enjoy the day, so it was good to be left in the dark!
Onto the next stage…
Stage 1, sorry for those with O.C.D, I’m not doing them in order! This was called the ‘Black Run’. After a recovery pedal over to it we were guided onto some boardwalk (glad it didn’t start on that stuff (carnage). The queue was a little longer, so a little more time to overthink what this stage was like and have a little bit of Banana. It was then go time, but I know I was being cautious as I heard this one has caused a few punctures, to say the least. It was quite tame to start with, a couple of corners with a nice flow, but then the rocks started, a couple of big rough berms winding you down and round onto a rocky shoot and then a couple more berms and another rock garden, this was rough. Was there a good line down this? I certainly just got down, no skill involved as the rocks were just where I didn’t want to go, but I got down in one piece. That was more of a phew rather than a woohoo! At the bottom there was a couple repairing punctures and one who’d cracked his carbon rims (this race is expensive!). It was another run in the bag, all is good!
Let’s do that again!
Having done stage 2 and 1, there was the decision of where to go next. I’m not sure I’m a fan of having to decide where to go next, but the thought of heading to stage 3 meant you would be back at the start, right down the bottom, so we thought we would spin back round to stage 2 for another run. I hadn’t appreciated the intensity and impact on my energy levels. Heading down for the second run, after a fail to clip in to start I just knew I didn’t really have much more to give on the second run. The only thing working in my favour was I knew what was coming up this time! Saying that actually, I mucked up at the end, as I was aiming to go round the rock drops, but got the line wrong, hit the first all squiffy and then somehow unclipped and just about got over the second then got back on it before the third thankfully. That could have ended up a whole heap different, phew! A close call.
After a few deep breaths, downing some drink ad chomping on a bit more banana we pootled back over to rake on stage one again. It was a tad busier this time round, seemingly everyone had a similar plan of staying up and repeating these 2 stages then heading over to 3 when they were hungry or finished! This may not have been the best plan in hindsight, but you never know until you try it. We ended up waiting in a queue, just like at a theme park…a long wait for a minute ride! This time for me felt a little better purely down to the fact I had a little more expectation of what was coming up, though it didn’t feel any faster. My legs were starting to give up the ghost, I’m not cut out for this malarky.
It was time to head over to stage 3, a little traverse across to join the trail single track climb which led us to the start of the stage, it was higher up than I thought, it was going to be a long one, I just hoped I could hang on. I knew what to expect on the lower section of ‘Happy life’, but not a clue on the first bit, keeps it interesting.
It began with another pedal, which I was getting less enthusiastic about with each passing minute. It was undulating before leading onto several sets of rock steps. This then traversed back across, out of the trees and into the open. After a few rough corners it was one of 2 fire breaks with sharp turns which I failed to get around well, losing valuable seconds, but my aim was just to get down this one safely. It then got a little wetter on the trail and the rocky sections increased, some could be avoided, but others it was easier and way more fun to drop over them. It continued to get rougher and more exhausting as it zig zagged down the side of the hill all the way to the bottom. You had to maintain concentration as the rock drops kept coming right until the last 2 corners. It was a relief to hear the beep to say you’ve finished that run. Flip me that was hard on the hands, arms and legs. It was time for a break before seeing what if any more we wanted to do!
Let’s go for one more run
I’ve heard it many times that it’s usually in the last 10% of a ride that is where accidents are more common simply due to tiredness, lack of concentration and knowing your so close to stopping so you switch off and muck about a bit more. As we pedalled up my legs felt alright, but my head was not fussed about doing much more, so we decided to just do one more run of stage 3, to make it 2 runs of each stage. This meant we just kept pedalling up and up until we got back to where we were. After a long pause whilst someone came off and had to walk down the track (nothing too serious thankfully) we watched a number of people just pedal there heart out as they set off. I took this opportunity to try out the new Torq Fitness Winter Shandy Gel…it didn’t disappoint, tasty good!
It was then time to get myself down for the final time. I got instant feedback from my body as I began to pedal away. My legs had seized up a little in the wait and were screaming a little at me with each pedal turn, but I wasn’t going to stop, they’d get used to it. I was bit happier on the rock steps this time, but it was definitely slower already, so just settled in and enjoy the run. There was a moment where I caught a glimpse of the guy in front. That was exciting and spurred me on a little to try and catch him up, but didn’t quite get there. Instead the guy 2 riders behind after the second fire break was right on my tail. I knew I wasn’t on a winning run or anywhere near that so pulled off to let him pass and then carried on until the end. It was done and dusted!
It’s all done
It’s the shortest race I’ve ever done over a long time! Sounds a bit odd, but the race accumulates to about 15 minutes or less for the majority of riders, but you’ve been racing for 5 hours, just bonkers! That’s why you have your strava on to prove how much you actually did (If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen, right?!). The day was good and a nice format for those thinking of getting into Enduro racing with the repeat runs. Most of the riders will leave longer gaps before starting there run, so not to catch you up, but sometimes they get it wrong. It is sociable as you can ride or walk with your mates to the next stage and do as much or as little as you want.
In the end I came 3rd in the Master women category, which I was pretty happy about though it did remind me that I was over 30 now, so separated from the young ones who were rapid. my overall time was 13:40:740 over a minute back on 2nd place, just to show I wasn’t that fast and against those who have a bit more experience of these races and don’t do long distance rides as training! Here’s the full results on Roots and Rain.
Would I do it again?
The day was a great way to understand this style of racing, but I don’t think it’s for me to be honest. I enjoy descending as a reward for the climbs and being part of a grand day, partly also as a recovery before the next climb. The experience of pedalling as much as possible, pushing my capabilities to the limit as well as busting my lungs just to get down as quick as I could. I prefer to enjoy descending at a level wear I can breathe normally, take in what is coming up and get down with a smile on my face, rather than puffing and panting trying to catch my breath. In some circumstances speed is your friend, but I’m not fussed to my times down hill, just enjoy the whole ride. A time for a section does not tell me anything about my experience and to be honest I don’t care. If I hadn’t made it clear, no I probably wouldn’t do one again unless other friends were keen and it was a place I haven’t ridden to make it a bit more interesting. I don’t want to travel and pay to ride trails I know well…I think I said the same about road sportive too. Variety is the spice of life!
I will end by saying, these are really well organised events and great fun if you do love a bit of a challenge, adrenaline rush, want to beat your mates time or chase them down. It’s got something for most capable riders. I would say, give one a go with some friends because it’s a good crack and you may discover you quite like the buzz of racing against the clock. It’s also a day or two on your bike, so it can’t be that bad at all!
Whatever kind of biker you are, just get out and ride, you’re beating everyone sitting on the sofa!
Lastly, a random not to finish on, but this is Obi, who we met at lunch time, he was very cool and I wanted to take him home, shame he already had a lovely family!